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Old Posted Jul 7, 2016, 2:55 AM
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Ottawa’s landmark Wellington Building restored to 1927 glory

Megan Gillis, Postmedia
Published on: July 6, 2016 | Last Updated: July 6, 2016 10:38 PM EDT

The monumental Wellington Building gleams after a $425-million restoration to its original splendour, from the glass-and-steel canopy again punctuating the limestone facade to its humming 1927 elevators.

But to see the hidden jewel of this Beaux Arts landmark, walk through shining brass doors from Wellington Street and look up.

On the vestibule’s vaulted ceiling is a glass mosaic mural. It celebrates the building’s original occupant, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and its then status as the biggest enterprise of its kind in the world.

A “treasured piece of art” unique in Canada, according to project manager Sylvain Lepage of Public Services and Procurement Canada, it is shining again thanks to a painstaking cleaning and restoration.

“At destruction and famine, thou shalt laugh,” it exhorts, amid images of the earthquakes, fires and floods from which “the Great Metropolitan Mother” would protect her policy-holders. Athletes in white cavort, nurses tend an injured patient and angels fly the company’s banner, all picked out in brilliant colour against gold.

“Neither shall thou be afraid of the beasts of the earth,” it reads above a sword-wielding woman fighting seven giant serpents and holding the bloodied severed head of one in her hand.

Metropolitan Life, which built the building as the capital was becoming a commercial centre, sold it to the federal government in 1973.

A recognized federal heritage building, it will house meeting rooms, a library and offices for 17 members of Parliament.

They’ll pass through a lobby wrapped in gleaming original marble, which was all removed, cleaned and replaced, before taking the classic lifts to the five upper floors.

“We’re proud to have preserved the mechanism for the elevators,” Lepage said. “In this space, you can put yourself back in time. In 1930, it would have been exactly the same.”

If the look of the building is all past glory, the guts of the renovation, sparked by failing mechanical systems, are pure 2016.

A 1950s modernist addition has been blown out to create a soaring two-storey atrium off the Sparks Street public entrance. It includes a giant living wall of colourful plants that is watered by a computerized system that uses rainwater from a cistern on the green roof studded with solar panels. A spiral staircase is picked out in lights.

The building has been earthquake-proofed and will use a quarter less energy than before while 90 per cent of the construction waste — less that contaminated with lead and asbestos — was recycled. Even tar was sent to an asphalt company.

On the outside, the building looks just as it once did, with 1970s metal windows replaced and the three-storey Corinthian columns that dominate the streetscape scrubbed.

“It makes a beautiful facade, right across from Parliament,” Lepage said.

Five great details:
• Almost a million glass tiles are in the mosaic mural designed by Barry Faulkner, who most famously created murals for the National Archives in Washington.

• 180 Wellington Street was designed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company’s chief architect, D. Everett Waid. He was behind the company’s landmark New York City headquarters that was to rise to 100 storeys — the tallest in the world — but was capped at 30 amid Great Depression austerity.

• Collaborating on the project was Ottawa architect J.A. Ewart, whose surviving works range from Lornado, a 1908 Rockcliffe Park mansion that now houses the American ambassador, to the Civic Hospital and Glebe Collegiate Institute.

• At the peak of the six-year rehabilitation, 400 workers and more than 100 contractors were at work in the building.

• The steel-and-glass canopy that’s given a new look to the Wellington Street facade is actually a replica modelled on period photographs of the original, which was stripped from the building and destroyed in the 1960s.

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Old Posted Jan 14, 2018, 11:32 PM
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